February 20, 2024

US proposes resettling Afghan refugees in CARICOM countries

Guyana’s President Dr. Irfaan Ali during his maiden address to the United Nations General Assembly

By Bert Wilkinson

The US government has asked some Caribbean Community nations to consider taking in dozens of Afghanistan refugee families under a special resettlement program and at least two are seriously considering it officials said here Thursday.

Authorities in Guyana and Suriname, the two largest and most resource-rich territories in the 15-member regional bloc- have confirmed formal negotiations with Washington about accepting small numbers of Afghan families that the US wants to resettle in the Caribbean.

Foreign Secretary Robert Persaud told this publication that the US has already supplied a list of names to the Guyana government but he said he was unsure if the current list being reviewed by authorities is the final one.

“The issue was raised by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken with President Irfaan Ali (in July).They are looking for help to resettle a small number of refugee families. We have not said no to the request nor have we made any decision as yet. Talks and engagement are continuing,” he said. Persaud said Guyana is interested in Afghans with skills who can contribute to national development “including doctors and engineers among others. This is one of our requirements. We are interested in skill sets.”

Persaud said he has also been engaging the US special representative on the Afghan issue but emphasized that the final numbers could change if and when a decision is made. Local media in neighboring Suriname have reported in recent weeks that Foreign Minister Albert Ramdin has confirmed that Suriname is one of the countries identified as possible new homes for the refugees.

This is even as Ronnie Brunswijk, vice-president of the governing coalition government, has said that he is opposed to any move to bring such a group to the country as the country has a ton of other problems to focus on. He sees no political sense in engaging on the Afghan refugee issue.“The government already has so many problems and then you cannot take on extra things, while there are institutions that do not have optimal access to funds. We have to discuss this properly.”

Foreign Minister Ramdin said, however, that several CARICOM countries have been approached to offer similar help to the Afghans but he gave no details. Ramdin argued that sovereign countries were obligated to render humanitarian assistance to other countries in times of need, reminding critics that Suriname itself reaches out for help on a range of issues from time to time.

“We should not isolate ourselves in a situation where we are only receiving and unwilling to give, especially when it comes to humanitarian matters. This makes you unacceptable in the world. Considering a request to include people who are in a difficult situation through no fault of their own into your society is considered positive. That’s the request. It’s not effective yet. We have yet to see if Afghans come at all. That will depend on the assessment and if one is interested. We will continue to inform the national assembly about this matter,” the Herald newspaper quoted him as saying.

Like VP Brunswijk, the main opposition National Democratic Party (NDP) said it is opposed to the plans as those being sent to this part of the world apparently could not pass background checks to enter the US.

For more on this story go to: CARIBBEAN LIFE

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